A Source Book in Physics

Author: Galileo Galilei

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Properties of Matter



SAGR. Thanks to this discussion, I have Learned the cause of a certain effect which I have long wondered at and despaired Of understanding. I once saw a cistern which had been provided with a pump under the mistaken impression that the water might thus be drawn with less effort or in greater quantity than by means of the ordinary bucket. The stock of the pump carried its sucker and valve in the upper part so that the water was lifted by attraction and not by a push as is the case with pumps in which the sucker is placed lower down. This pump worked perfectly so long as the water in the cistern stood above a certain level; but below this level the pump failed to work. When I first noticed this phenomenon I thought the machine was out of order; but the workman whom I called in to repair it told me the defect was not in the pump but in the water which had fallen too low to be raised through such a height; and he added that it was not possible, either by a pump or by any other machine working on the principle of attraction, to lift water a hair’s breadth above eighteen cubits; whether the pump be large or small this is the extreme limit of the lift. Up to this time I had been so thoughtless that, although I knew a rope, or rod of wood, or of iron, if sufficiently long, would break by its own weight when held by the upper end, it never occurred to me that the same thing would happen, only much more easily, to a column of water. And really is not that thing which is attracted in the pump a column of water attached at the upper end and stretched more and more until finally a point is reached where it breaks, like a rope, on account of its excessive weight?

SALV. That is precisely the way it works; this fixed elevation of eighteen cubits is true for any quantity of water whatever, be the pump large or small or even as fine as a straw. We may therefore say that, on weighing the water contained in a tube eighteen cubits long, no matter what the diameter, we shall obtain the value of the resistance of the vacuum in a cylinder of any solid material having a bore of this same diameter.


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Chicago: Galileo Galilei, "Rise of Water in a Pump," A Source Book in Physics in A Source Book in Physics, ed. William Frances Magie (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935), 69–70. Original Sources, accessed September 26, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CYL1ER8HGT3NIZ1.

MLA: Galilei, Galileo. "Rise of Water in a Pump." A Source Book in Physics, in A Source Book in Physics, edited by William Frances Magie, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1935, pp. 69–70. Original Sources. 26 Sep. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CYL1ER8HGT3NIZ1.

Harvard: Galilei, G, 'Rise of Water in a Pump' in A Source Book in Physics. cited in 1935, A Source Book in Physics, ed. , Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp.69–70. Original Sources, retrieved 26 September 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CYL1ER8HGT3NIZ1.